The Unholy Majority – a still-timely poem
Recently I received a request to reprint a poem I wrote 17 years ago. As I read it today, I am struck by how it seems to become more and more appropriate and prophetic as the days roll on. It clears fog from election dynamics, opening the door to new ways of looking at what we’re caught up in and to new possibilities on the other side, where a wiser democracy awaits only our decision to make it happen….
The Unholy Majority
by Tom Atlee
In the red light of sunset,
few people see
In our majoritarian system
the majority don’t rule.
In the falling dusk,
we need to observe more closely
and keep peeling away the layers
of this thing we call democracy
to see inside.
On the first layer of “majority rules”
we find that
whoever controls the majority
(at any given time, on any given issue)
Success in that game involves
strategy, manipulation, attack, mobilization, noise…
Meanwhile, there is a deeper layer,
where there is far less noise
and less light.
At that level,
Those who control the “majority rule” game
They cultivate majorities and minorities for their own ends
and reap a bountiful harvest,
whoever wins the wars.
Deeper yet we find
the “majority rule” game, itself,
shapes what is possible and what is not,
At this level,
even those who control the game
This is where things are stuck.
This is where change will make a difference.
The “majority rule” game, itself,
shapes what is possible and what is not.
Getting unstuck means changing the game.
Changing the game means understanding the game
from the outside in.
A friend showed me a key:
Of all the interests battling in the “majority rule” game,
the least well served is the general interest, the common good,
We the People,
the whole US.
In fact, lost in vast deep sadness,
We the People is nothing but a ghost.
And I don’t mean We the Common People.
I mean We the Everyone, the Whole.
But Why? I said.
Because the majoritarian system is intrinsically adversarial,
divisive, corrosive of the Whole:
In the competition to control or become a majority,
each viewpoint and voice can only be heard as a special interest.
And any general interest
— health, prudence, compassion, clean air —
must become a warrior
and strive noisily for victory against The Dark Side, the Other —
or be rendered invisible,
The system demands
that the whole become parts,
and that the parts masquerade as the whole —
that each special interest act like it is The General Interest.
And the system demands, as well,
that when a part wins, when it is a majority,
we acknowledge it as the Whole, as US.
It is all fantasm,
all a lie, I tell you —
The Emperor’s New Clothes —
a loudly proclaimed virtual nothing
that drains into part-isanship
all the energies and gifts we could use
to co-discover our wisdom together
as whole communities,
as a healed and healthy world.
So the majoritarian system consumes and digests
the righteous passions of our well-divided interests,
motivating and shape-shifting and battling
in its search for majority support
and thus victory
and thus the dominance and resources
of concentrated power controlled by the victor,
forcing other interests into loser status
so they will fight to win back the reins.
And thus the battle rages back and forth.
Or at least seems to.
Meanwhile those who own and benefit from the game itself
(who support both sides to maintain access to
the public treasury,
the natural wealth of The Commons,
and the game-shaping activity
of deciding public policy)
continue to design the game to be losable
only by the players,
not the owners,
and in the process lose their own access to heaven
for the eye of the needle is far too small
to admit their heavily laden camels.
Meanwhile the general interest, the common good,
not only loses
but is not even part of the game, part of the conversation,
except insofar as all sides claim it as theirs.
With “God on our side”
the partisan parts abscond with the holy whole.
God only knows,
this won’t change
until the players stop playing the game
and change it.
And if the Whole could speak, it might well say
that changing the game is not confined to
changing the rules of majoritarianism
the Rule of the Biggest Part
is more legitimately seen as
the Rule of The Whole.
Changing the game is about enabling the Rule of the Whole.
Changing the game may require helping majoritarianism
work fairly for real majorities, yes,
but only as a stepping stone —
because it IS only a stepping stone.
Ultimately, changing the game is not about the majority.
It is about the real Whole,
about the wisdom that arises from turning
towards each other
instead of against each other
It is about striving
towards the rule of, by and for The Whole,
a whole which includes Them
The Rule of the Whole
is a horizon, an invitation, an adventure.
We will never reach it, it is not a place to stop.
It is so deep, so wide,
so ever-changing into newness
that we can only live it as a journey
or a conversation.
When we seek it, when we travel it,
when we accept that we are pioneers of life’s emergent wisdom,
we meet each Other
and we hear
and are heard
and new things become possible
that were never possible before.
Because when our differences are heard
our diverse parts discover their kinship
and their power to dance creatively together.
Then the Whole can find its voice
and its will.
And it will —
if it is given a form to manifest in,
if it is given a wiser democratic system,
one that brings us together
and taps the font of our buried co-creativity.
The system that holds us in thrall
is built on not hearing each other
so that we will remain a
The system that frees us
will be built on hearing each other
so that we can expand
through each other’s eyes and lives
to see more and become
ever more truly whole
So the sacred secret strategy is this:
The game of the whole
cannot be won by any part
but only by the Whole.
That is the only game
that We the People
Truly, as sure as the sun is setting:
That is the only game
that We the People
On that path,
control and rightness
cease to claim our passion.
our hearts, minds and spirits
dedicate themselves together to create
not just a world that works for all,
but the means by which the world can create
a world that works for all,
over and over again,
born from the gifts of all,
evolving forever from the lives of all
toward the dreams of all,
It is All that Matters.
For the sake of the sunrise
we are called:
We are All.
Nov 6, 2002
Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
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